As you can imagine (or perhaps already know), divorce is incredibly difficult. Even if you and your ex-spouse separated amicably and agreeably, there is the undeniable fact that your lifestyle will change following the divorce. Everything from your address to your parenting schedule to your domestic obligations will change and create a monumental and undeniable shift in your life. Though in some ways this may be appealing, it is important to consider income when creating divorce documents. Most people do not plan to get divorced when they marry, and thus learn to depend on their spouse in many ways. Finances are one significant way that couples begin to rely on one another, and both become accustomed to sharing money. During a divorce, this equilibrium is upset, and both partners have to learn new ways to handle finances. In some situations, spousal support may be warranted.
What Is Spousal Support?
Many people have heard of spousal support, but few know what it entails. Spousal support agreements are designed to ensure that both parties remain financially stable after a divorce, especially if one spouse was making significantly more money than the other. If this is the case, the high-earning spouse may be required to pay the low-earning spouse monthly payments so that they can build their new life from a place of financial security. These payments may not last forever, but they help to bridge the gap and ensure that the divorce is fair.
Domesticity and Spousal Support
In some marriages, one spouse remains at home to care for the house and children while the other goes to work. If this is the agreement, the spouse who remains at home forgoes career advancement, opportunities, and a traditional paycheck in order to perform the myriad of duties involved in running a home and rearing children.
The court recognizes the value in this, but also the sacrifice that the domestic parent had to make in their professional life in order to remain at home. This means that the individual has less practical experience on their resume and may find it difficult to find suitable employment. In these cases, a spousal support agreement can repay that parent for their sacrifice and ensure that they can continue to count on the financial support that was part of their marriage, even though the marriage has dissolved.
What Is Spousal Support Based On?
The amount of spousal support payments will vary from situation to situation. For some couples, the amount may be a large sum, while for others the support check is a small but necessary amount. In any case, there are several factors involved in determining who will pay spousal support, and how much they should pay.
Before anything else, the courts must determine if one spouse makes significantly more than the other. If both spouses worked outside the home and made similar amounts of income, spousal support may not be appropriate. However, if both spouses worked but one made the lion’s share of the income, or if only one spouse worked, spousal support may be warranted.
Here in California, there is a general formula for calculating spousal support amounts. Though the courts will personalize the sum based on unique circumstances, the amount is usually 40% of the paying spouse’s monthly income. Then the courts subtract ½ of the receiving spouse’s income (if applicable), to arrive at a payment sum that is appropriate.
Specific Factors in Determining Spousal Support
There are several distinct considerations that the court will take into account when calculating what amount of spousal support payment is appropriate. These factors include:
- Each spouse’s unique financial needs
- The paying spouse’s financial capacity to pay
- The receiving spouse’s marketable skills, and whether those skills are still relevant, and whether the receiving spouse needs more education or training to use those skills
- The impact that the marriage had on the receiving spouse’s professional resume
- The contribution or sacrifice the receiving spouse made to the paying spouse’s career, education, certification, etc.
- The limitations placed on the receiving spouse’s ability to work regarding dependents and/or children
- The standard of living developed during the marriage
- The age and health status of each spouse
Child Support and Spousal Support
It is worth noting that spousal support payments are calculated after child support payments are deducted. Child support can be a significant expense, and the courts take it into consideration when calculating income. To refer to the above calculation, the 40% of the paying spouse’s income is calculated based on their income post- child support payments. This sum may be significantly lower. For example, if a paying parent makes $4,000 per month and pays $500 per month in child support, spousal support will be calculated based on a monthly income of $3,500.
Temporary Spousal Support
During the divorce process and proceedings, a temporary spousal support agreement may be created. The purpose of this agreement is the same as any other spousal support agreement: to provide financial stability to the lower-earning spouse. These agreements are often made via the spouses’ attorneys. They last only during the length of the divorce proceedings until a permanent spousal support agreement is created by the court.
Permanent Spousal Support
Most spousal support agreements are determined as “permanent.” However, this is significantly misleading. It is rare that a spousal support payment lasts indefinitely. The general rule is that any marriage under 10 years can expect spousal support to last about half of the length of the marriage. For example, if you were married for six years, you can expect that spousal support would last for about three years following your divorce.
For couples who were married for longer than 10 years, the calculation is not so straightforward. Spousal support will last for any length of time that the court sees fit.
Modifying Spousal Support
As with many post-divorce agreements, spousal support contracts can be modified. Modifications generally occur when the income of either spouse changes. For example, if the paying spouse takes a pay cut, the spousal support may be adjusted to reflect that. Alternatively, if the receiving spouse takes a job that makes more money than their old one, the spousal support payments may be reduced. This occurs because the receiving spouse is no longer as dependent on their ex for financial stability and security.
In some cases, a spouse can argue for a modification if they are paying a spouse who has moved in with a significant other. Though nothing will definitively happen until the receiving spouse remarries, it is possible to argue for a modification in the meantime, citing that the receiving spouse has new support.
Ending Spousal Support
As mentioned, even permanent spousal support doesn’t last forever. There are a few ways in which spousal support payments can be ended altogether. These situations include:
- The judge sets a date for the payments to end, and that date arrives
- The receiving spouse remarries
- Either the providing or the receiving spouse passes away
In these situations, payments come to an end and the agreement is dissolved.
Bridging the Gap
It is essential to remember that California law states that the purpose of spousal support is to bridge the gap between dependent finances and independent ones. It is never meant as a permanent situation, but rather to help ease the transition. Receiving or supported spouses are obligated to find suitable employment within a reasonable amount of time. Though this is fairly vague, the court acts in good faith that those being supported by ex-spouses do not take advantage, but rather try to get back on their feet following a divorce.
Do I Need a Spousal Support Attorney?
As with any legal matter, it is in your best interest to hire an attorney when negotiating spousal support. These documents are part of divorce proceedings, and it is unwise to traverse a divorce without legal representation.
Spousal support is delicate and can have a significant impact on your life, whether you are the paying or the receiving spouse. Any document or agreement of such magnitude warrants thorough, professional legal counsel. What’s more, spousal support is not a guarantee in a relationship. If you wish to receive spousal support, it is essential that you have an attorney on your side to fight for it. It will not be an automatic aspect of your divorce, and your ex-spouse is under no obligation to offer it. If given the opportunity for financial freedom, it is more likely that your ex-spouse and their attorney will turn a blind eye and not mention it.
Why Khalaf Law Group?
At Khalaf Law Group, we have been proudly representing families in Southern California for over a decade. We have a firm grasp of the detailed local laws surrounding divorce and child support in our state and use that understanding to your advantage in the courtroom. We are proud to defend families in our community and know that spousal support is just one of the ways we can do that. Though we have expertise in divorce and spousal support, we approach every case with the same diligence as we did for our first. We are cutthroat in court, but empathetic and approachable when we speak with you. We want you to feel fully supported by your family law attorneys so that you can create a spousal support agreement that will help you move into the next phase of your life.
Don’t put your future on hold for a moment longer. Contact us via our website today.